Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden
Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden is a 80-hectare studio complex in Leavesden, Hertfordshire in southeastern England. Formerly known as Leavesden Film Studios and still colloquially known Leavesden Studios or simply Leavesden, it is a major film and media complex owned by Warner Bros. The studios and backlot were all retrofitted as the site's original purpose was as an aircraft factory and airfield known as Leavesden Aerodrome, an important centre of aircraft production during World War II. It is situated in southwest Hertfordshire approximately 29 kilometres (18 mi) northwest of central London, in Watford.
Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, is one of only a few places in the UK where large scale film productions can be made. The studios contain approximately 50,000 m2 (538,196 sq ft) of flexible space which includes stage space, one of the largest filtered and heated stage-based water tanks in Europe, production office space and support buildings, along with an extensive 32-hectare (79-acre) backlot which offers a 180 degree uninterrupted horizon, favourable for exterior sets.
Since acquiring the site Warner Bros. has opened a public attraction called The Warner Bros. Studio Tour – London, which receives over 6,000 visitors a day all whilst the site maintains a secure studio space within the same complex.
Construction of Leavesden Aerodrome began in 1939 with the outbreak of World War II. The de Havilland company, who were based in nearby Hatfield, entered a contract with the Ministry of Defence to produce what would become known as the Mosquito fighter craft and the Halifax bomber. This new site was acquired as the large scale hangars needed to accommodate the production of huge number of planes required could not be constructed at de Havilland's Hatfield base due to a lack of space. As a result, by the end of the war Leavesden Aerodrome was the largest factory in the world. The two planes were both critical successes for Britain during the conflict. After the war, the aerodrome was acquired by Rolls-Royce who used it as a factory producing engines for airplanes and later helicopters. However, by the early 1990s they had sold their interests in the site. Unable to find a new owner, Leavesden Aerodrome was left disused.
Then, in 1995, Eon Productions' James Bond film GoldenEye was to be the next film in the series after an unusually long six-year break. Pinewood Studios, the series' traditional home, was thus fully booked with other productions. Facing little time to find a space in which they could build the number of large scale sets required, the production discovered the unoccupied Leavesden Aerodrome. The wide, tall and open aircraft hangars were uniquely well suited to conversion into a studio space. Eon leased the site for the duration of their shoot and went about gutting the factory, turning it into a working film studio. This process is shown on the 2006 DVD's special features. GoldenEye's crew jokingly called Leavesden Cubbywood after Eon's long serving producer Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli.
After GoldenEye wrapped a succession of major feature films quickly made use of the site, including the first of the Star Wars prequels. By the year 2000, Heyday Films had acquired the site on behalf of Warner Bros. for use in what would be the first in a series of films, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Every one of the Harry Potter films was based out of Leavesden Studios over the following ten years. While other productions—usually other Warner Bros. productions—made partial use of the studios, the site was mostly occupied by Harry Potter's permanent standing sets. During this time it was noted that there were some ways in which the site's facilities might be improved. None of the stages were adequately soundproofed and the WW2 era ceilings had a tendency to leak during rainy weather.
One of the more noticeable exterior sets constructed on the Leavesden backlot (outdoors) was a row of ten houses (five per side) along a street, which was created for the Harry Potter series to represent Privet Drive. As of September 2012, this set is still visible on the Google Maps and Bing Maps aerial views of the area, along with the Hagrid's hut and Hogwarts bridge exteriors.
In 2010, Warner Bros. announced their intention to purchase the studio as a permanent European base, the first studio to do so since Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940s. By November 2010, Warner Bros. completed its purchase of Leavesden Studios and announced plans to invest more than £100m into the site they had occupied for over ten years. The studios make Warner Bros. the only Hollywood film studio with a permanent base in the UK.
Much of the redevelopment involved converting stages A through H into soundstages and equipping all the facilities with the latest fittings a production might require. The refurbished stages were retrofits of the original buildings and were actually very respectful to the site's history. The runway and control tower from the site's days as an aerodrome remain intact as well as all of the buildings' original structures. The full scale refurbishment and renovation of the production facilities were completed and the studios reopened to film and television work in 2012.
As part of this redevelopment Warner Bros. also created two entirely new soundstages, J & K, to house a permanent public exhibition called The Warner Bros. Studio Tour – London, creating 300 new jobs in the local area. Currently the whole attraction is dedicated to the making of Harry Potter and is now home to many of the series' most iconic sets, props and costumes. It was opened to the public in early 2012.
Almost twenty years after the complex was converted from aerodrome to film studios—and over a year since the completion of work on the newly refurbished studios—the site was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on 26 April 2013. On their royal visit, they were accompanied by the Duke's brother Prince Harry and J. K. Rowling (who had unfortunately been unable to attend the tour's grand opening the year before) amongst other illustrious guests. Before their visit several hundred beneficiaries of charities they all support were given exclusive invitations to the tour on the day of the royal visit. The royal entourage visited both the tour, meeting many of their beneficiaries, and the studios, where they saw some of the props and costumes from Christopher Nolan's Batman films, before conducting the site's royal inauguration.
The first film to shoot at the newly refurbished studios was the Warner Bros. production Edge of Tomorrow. Though the studios are now privately owned, the shooting spaces are available to rent for any film company. The studios are now one of the largest and most state-of-the-art secure filmmaking facilities in the world.
On June 30, 2014, Warner Bros. announced the expansion of the studio, building three new state-of-the-art stages and adding a further 100,000 square feet of office space. The announcements were made after a reception celebrating the Creative Industries, hosted by PM David Cameron, and attended by WB's CEO Kevin Tsujihara and WB UK's MD Josh Berger. Leavesden's trio of new sound-stages will consist of one 35,000 square foot building and two 17,000 square foot buildings, along with 20,000 square feet of adjacent office space which were completed by the end of 2014. On the same day the filming of live-action The Legend of Tarzan got underway at the studio.
Films that have made use of the facilities include:
- GoldenEye (1995)
- Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
- Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
- Sleepy Hollow (1999)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
- The Dark Knight (2008)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
- Sherlock Holmes (2009)
- Inception (2010)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)
- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
- Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
- Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
- 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
- Jupiter Ascending (2015)
- Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
- In the Heart of the Sea (2015)
- Pan (2015)
- Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
- The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
- Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur (2016)
- Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)
A studio tour on the site, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, opened to the public on 31 March 2012 with a grand opening event, attended by many of the Harry Potter film series cast and crew members, including Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright, Evanna Lynch, Warwick Davis, David Thewlis, Helen McCrory, George Harris, Nick Moran, Natalia Tena, David Bradley, Alfie Enoch, Harry Melling, producers David Heyman and David Barron and directors David Yates, Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell.
With each tour session typically lasting three hours, the studio tour has the capacity to handle 5,000 visitors daily. Despite Warner Bros. being the film company behind Harry Potter, the tour is not styled as a theme park, due to Universal Studios obtaining the rights to build Harry Potter theme parks, such as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, in Orlando, Florida. The tour, which was designed and produced by Burbank-based Thinkwell Group in close collaboration with Warner Bros. and the filmmakers, includes only sets, props and costumes that were actually used in the Harry Potter film series, including the Great Hall, Dumbledore's Office, Diagon Alley, the Ministry of Magic, Gryffindor Common Room and Boys' Dormitory, Hagrid's Hut and a 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts Castle, which Anita Singh of The Daily Telegraph described as "the highlight" of the tour. Liz Thomas, of the Daily Mail, was critical of the tour's cost, describing it as "a somewhat less magical price tag". Diagon Alley is available to explore virtually on Google Maps Street View.
The Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter has won several awards since its opening, including a 2013 Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement, 2013 Telly Award for Editing, 2013 Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence, 2013 UKinbound Award for Individual Attraction of the Year, 2012 Event Technology Silver Award for Best Use of Handheld Technology, 2012 UK Customer Experience Award for Best Leisure & Retail Experience, and 2012 Group Leisure Award for Best UK Attraction. The Studio Tour has also been honoured with awards for its lighting design, including the 2013 IES Illumination Award of Merit and 2013 Lighting Design Award for Lighting for Leisure. In addition, the Studio Tour was named one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Entertainment Design Projects of 2012 by EntertainmentDesigner.com.
Although the tour currently only focuses on Harry Potter, Warner Bros. have highlighted the possibility to expand the tour to other Warner Bros. franchises in the years to come. Although the possibility of a full Warner Bros. theme park has been ruled out due to planning restrictions and lack of space, Warner Bros. have said that they would like to add more interactive rides during the expansion, similar to Universal Studios Florida. A hotel is also expected to open next to the plot, but it is unclear whether this will be operated by Warner Bros.
In January 2015, the attraction's first expansion was announced - a brand new Platform 9¾ section, where visitors are able to board the original carriages behind the Hogwarts Express steam engine used in the films. As with the rest of the attraction, the set was constructed and dressed by the original crew members who worked on the film - including Stuart Craig himself, who designed the new set exclusively for the tour (since these scenes in the films were actually shot on Location in Kings Cross). The setup includes the locomotive GWR 4900 Class 5972 Olton Hall (dressed as 5972 Hogwarts Castle) and the British Rail Mark 1 train that appeared in the films, brought to life by John Richardson's special effects team. Finally a new green screen experience illustrates what working on the films is like from an actor's point of view. This section opened in late March 2015.
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-  Archived May 21, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
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- Lighting Design Awards 2013
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden.|
- Warner Bros. Official UK website
- Warner Bros. Studio Tour website
- Official Studios website
- Studio Tour Guide